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Is It OK To Drink Gatorade?

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 10.02.51 AMIf you played sports as a kid, you probably grew up on the delicious, refreshing beverage called Gatorade (or Powerade, although I think Gatorade is better). Originally invented at the University of Florida (Go Gators) to hydrate the football team during hot summer games, Gatorade now produces a regular and low calorie drink, “natural” versions of these beverages, as well as energy chews and nutrition bars. And their marketing has been stellar – watch any Gatorade ad and you’re pretty much convinced that you should drink this stuff because that’s what the badass athletes do (and who doesn’t want to be a badass athlete). They’re all about that inspiring stuff like hard work and determination. Well, at least most kids probably think that. As adults, we’re just trained to crave it. If I go running in sub 75 degree weather for longer than 30 minutes, I come back craving a blue Gatorade (because maybe the flavor is inspired by some fruit, but we just know it by the color. Yellow is a close second for me). Of course, Gatorade has also gotten some negative press surrounding their use of brominated vegetable oil (BVO) – which they’ve since discontinued using – because it had been patented as a flame retardant and is banned in Japan and the European Union.  But, is it OK to drink or should you avoid it?

Sports Drink Pros

Sports drinks are great – and have been successful over the past 40 years – because they provide the unique combination of dilute carbohydrate and electrolytes in an easily digestible format. Sports drinks have essentially been formulated by scientists to provide EXACTLY what athletes need during exercise to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The average regular Gatorade has 80 calories, 21 grams of sugar, 160 mg of sodium, and 45 mg of potassium. The G2 series is usually 30 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate with the same electrolyte content as the original. 

Other Gatorade perks:

  • Helps prevent hyponatremia (salt deficiency), which generally happens when athletes over hydrate.
  • The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. When you’re working out for a long time (over an hour) in very hot conditions, that can be a plus.
  • It tastes good. Sometimes water gets old.


Gatorade Cons

Despite loving Gatorade as a kid/teen just kidding I still love it now, this is the part that always makes me sad: the ingredients list. The Blue G2 flavor (apparently called “Glacier Freeze) that I like so much contains the following: Water (fine), sugar (OK I was expecting that), citric acid (not a big deal), sodium citrate (OK that’s the sodium, just with a different companion than table salt), mono potassium phosphate (potassium source), sucralose (commonly known as Splenda, because I guess 7 grams of sugar wasn’t enough to make it appealing to the American palette), acesulfame potassium (anOTHER artificial sweetener) and Blue 1 (that would be an artificial color. Ugh). So, most of the ingredients are fine, not everything that isn’t 100% natural is going to kill you, although I really try to avoid artificial colors. 

In addition, a few other sports drink drawbacks:

  • It often gets misused or overused. Pretty sure Lebron James needed some Gatorade in San Antonio when the AC broke, and it’s very useful during a half marathon or other endurance activity. But a lot of kids, adolescents, and even adults nowadays are drinking it while playing video games or at school. Unless you’re sweating your butt off during a workout, you don’t really need an electrolyte drink.
  • The taste generally makes you thirsty, so you drink more. Yes, I realize this was also a pro. But when I return from a 45 minute run, I could benefit from 8-12 ounces and end up drinking nearly the whole bottle before it occurs to me to put it away. That’s a lot of sugar I probably didn’t need. 

So, should you drink Gatorade?

My answer is yes, when it is appropriate and if you prefer it over other options. When is it appropriate?

  • When you’re working out for over 60-90 minutes or in extreme heat conditions
  • When you complete a WOD like last week’s 1K test on the erg and need a little extra sugar before the second WOD. However, in this case you only need a small amount.

What are some other options? Coconut water, diluted juice (full concentrated juice can make you fee sick to your stomach by adding too much sugar – compare 21 grams of carbs in 12 ounces of Gatorade to over 40 grams in the same amount of Naked Juice or OJ). 

What are your thoughts? Do you love Gatorade? Hate it?

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Jervin Justin on Facebook

    Helpful article, thanks. Any thoughts on the tabs that you add to water? I used to drink Nuun all the time (GU makes a similar product) – supposed to have the electrolytes you need, without the added sugar/carbs. I recently stopped though bc I have no idea if that stuff is good for you or just marketing hype.

  2. Alex Black

    I looked up the Nuun tablets, but I was unable to read a full ingredients list online. They state they don’t use HFCS which is good, but they do use some of the other artificial sweeteners (which yes are generally regarded as safe (GRAS), but according to regulations companies can basically declare anything GRAS and the onus is on FDA to prove otherwise). Not much info on the GU tablets online, except that they use stevia for sweetener. Stevia is the most natural artificial sweetener of yet and tends to be held in the highest regard, but we thought that about Splenda 10 years ago. There’s still a good deal we don’t know about Stevia.

    According to the nutrition profile, the regular tablets offer 360 mg of sodium for 16 oz (compared to 160 mg in 12 oz of Gatorade) and 100 mg of potassium (compared to 45 mg per 12 oz). But when you compare by serving size, they are pretty similar in profile. My bigger concern is, if you are exercising long and hard enough to need electrolyte replacement, chances are you will benefit from some carbohydrate too. So what is good for you depends on how your body reacts to different products. Some people may do better with Gatorade to replace electrolytes and carbohydrates, while someone else might perform better using Nuun or a similar product for electrolyte replacement and eating a bar or chew for carbohydrate. Basically, the tablets will be useful for some people and a waste of money for others.

    All of these products are ultimately a lot of hype, whether they work a little, a lot, or not at all. To decide if it’s right for you, try it out (or think back to when you were using it) and assess whether using the product produced a tangible benefit for you – did you feel better, have more energy, run a little faster or longer, etc? Either way just like Gatorade and Powerade, this is a great beverage before/during/after you are working out, but completely unnecessary when you’re not.

    Hope that helped answer your question!

  3. Pingback: Hydration In The Summer and A REPOST: Is Gatorade A Good Idea? - CrossFit BostonCrossFit Boston

  4. Marco Pessoa

    Yes I’ve been drinking G2 Gatorade and water also coconut at times but Gatorade is the bomb

    1. Neal Thompson


      I would argue that most people should never use gatorade. They simply are not exercising or sweating enough in their day to day to make it necessary. What ends up happening is you are drinking excess calories and storing it as fat. My .02

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